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Waterbury sticking with school mask mandate; New Haven likely to follow

Board members said the vote can be revisited at any time and masks can be made option if the data improves.

WATERBURY, Conn. — The Waterbury Board of Education voted Thursday evening to continue the mask mandate for its schools.

This comes after Gov. Ned Lamont's statewide mask mandate comes to an end on Feb. 28. Each Connecticut community has the option to drop school masking mandates, but don't expect any of the larger cities to do so. That includes Waterbury.

Waterbury's Director of Public Health Aisling McGuckin showed a chart of vaccine prevalence, rate of positive cases and new cases within the community. 

RELATED: Hartford Public School community to continue wearing masks through at least April 1: Superintendent

Officials said every two weeks, the school system and health department will review three key criteria: vaccination rate of students, new cases per 100,000 people and the number of COVID positive cases. To determine if masking requirements can be dropped. So far, Waterbury meets only one of the three criteria. And the city would have to meet the guidelines in two of the three categories in order to consider changing masking.

"I would really encourage us to stay the course until the end of the school year when we have time to reexamine all of the factors that would be affected by removing one mitigation strategy," said McGuckin. 

The requirement will begin on March 1, right after Lamont's statewide mask mandate expires. 

Waterbury BOE voted unanimously to keep the mask mandate in place.

"I’m actually very proud that the policy was implemented unanimously and very importantly that it’s going to be a well thought of decision," said Dr. Verna Ruffin, the Superintendent of Waterbury Public Schools.

Though there is no timeline as to how long Waterbury's mandate will last, board members said the decision can be revisited before the school year ends. If numbers improve, there can be a consideration to make masks optional. 

"I think that we should still wear the masks because you know it protects us from the virus of course you need to take other precautions," said Waterbury 7th grader Yuri Thomas.

RELATED: School mask debate continues as local cities, towns now tasked with decision

Parents in the meeting felt masks should be made optional immediately. 

"I’m here to tell you, as a parent, it’s not my kids job or any kids job to worry about killing an adult," one of the parents said via Zoom. "If the parents are so worried that their kids are gonna kill them then the adult can put on an N95 mask when their kid gets home .

"She was moody, she was tired, she had headaches, I would gladly put her back in. The mask mandate is holding me back. As the last caller said, this is not the child's responsibility to go ahead and protect others and we are doing more psychological harm than good," said a parent of a Waterbury student. 

"Even a vigilant mask-wearing kid is wearing an old dirty bacteria-ridden mask. Even in a fresh mask, they're breathing in their own bacteria all day long," added another parent in the meeting. 

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Commissioner Rocco Orso sided with these parents. 

"I believe it should be the parent's choice whether to mask children or not," said Orso. 

"It’s time for them to be themselves," said Jose Berrios, the father of a Waterbury 8th grader. "It’s time for the kids to be organic. Let them speak for them spirits not buy control of the system."

"I totally get it," Ruffin said. "I can’t wait until we don’t have to wear them but for the time being it becomes necessary."

Hartford's superintendent also opted Thursday to continue the school district's mask requirement until April 1. 

"We have decided to keep our mask policy in place with a plan to reassess and share an update no later than Friday April 1," said Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez. 

RELATED: CDC contemplating change in mask guidance in coming weeks

Commissioner Melissa Serrano-Adorno was willing to negotiate by suggesting see-through masks as a possible option. 

"Especially the ESL students, special ed, elementary school, who need to see the pronunciation of certain words," said Serrano-Adorno. 

Elsewhere in the state, the Town of Stonington voted unanimously to lift the mask mandate come Feb. 28. 

Meanwhile, CREC announced they would continue with the mask mandate until March 31. 

And the next big city with masking on the agenda: New Haven, where the Board of Education meets Monday night.

"What I think residents can anticipate is that in our municipal buildings and in public schools we are going to continue to stay the course on the mask mandate," said Mayor Justin Elicker (D-New Haven).

Carmen Chau is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at cchau@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tony Terzi is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at tterzi@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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